We’re looking this morning at 1 Corinthians chapter 4, 1 Corinthians chapter 4, and verses 1 through 5 in our continuing study of 1 Corinthians. We’ve been encouraged by the response of our folks to the series which we gave in the last three weeks on God and Satan, but now we’re returning to our study of 1 Corinthians and find ourselves in chapter 4 looking at the first five verses. I confess to you that the passage is written as much to me as it is to you. It is addressed to the Corinthian congregation, but it is the definition of the true place of the minister.
It’s the guideline or the standard by which the minister is to minister, and it is the attitude in which the people are to hold him, and so it’s a very important portion of Scripture. It’s been a very heart-searching time for me, a time of self-examination, a time of measuring myself against the Word of God in order to see that I fulfilled that which God has laid out as His pattern for His minister.
One of the very popular games that people play in the church, among many games, is the game of evaluating the pastor. All kinds of criteria have been offered as the standard for who is to be the most honored pastor and who is to be the tops and who’s the bottom and why so-and-so is better than the other and so forth, and there are even institutions that give special honors to the people who fit their criteria. And I suppose that because ministers are in the public eye and because we’re always up in front, it is tempting to rate and rank them and the game, then, is very common.
Ministers are generally ranked by the following criteria: the size of their church, the ability of their staff, the size of their staff, the style of their preaching, the degrees they’ve received academically, the books they have written, the particular scriptural emphasis that is associated with them, their popularity with people, their social status, et cetera, et cetera. And on this basis, we all (I think) are tempted to rate and rank ministers.
And may I hasten to add that all of that is offensive to God - all of it - and in this passage, Paul discusses the issue of evaluating ministers. It is a very important text and it is highly instructive for us.
Now, it’s been a long time since we last studied 1 Corinthians, so let me remind you of a few general things. It’ll help you to understand what we’re talking about. The letter of 1 Corinthians written by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church was written because there were so many problems in the church. The church was being crippled by the sequence of problems that became manifest. But of all of the problems that they had, and they had about all of the problems there were, the most severe one (at least the one to which Paul goes at the greatest length to discuss) is the problem of division.
It is very likely that all of the other problems contributed to the problem of division, but division is the problem with which he deals in the first four chapters and Satan, as you well know, loves to divide the church. We’ve seen this in our study of Satan the last few weeks. Now, in the first four chapters, then, Paul is writing to counteract the division in the congregation. He points up clearly that the division was manifest because of two things: the exaltation of human wisdom and the exaltation of human leaders. The people were fighting over opinions and people.
In chapter 1, there is evidence that they were arguing about philosophies. They had one philosophy and this group had another philosophy and so forth and so on, and they had dragged their philosophies into the church, and even though they agreed on theology, they were polarized over human opinion. And secondly, he says in chapter 1, verse 12, they were divided over men. One would say, “I’m of Paul,” another, “I’m of Apollos,” another, “I’m of Christ,” another, “I’m of Cephas,” and so they were polarized over human leaders (with the exception, of course, of Christ) and over human opinion.
So Paul attacks that simply. In chapter 1 and 2, he attacks the sin of exalting human wisdom. In chapter 3 and 4, the sin of exalting human leaders. And he shows in the midst of all of it that the basic sin underneath all of it is carnality, chapter 3, the first five verses.
So we’re in the midst of his discussion of human leaders, and he has already, in chapter 3, pointed out how ridiculous it is to rank men over the others, to say this man is superior to that man and this man is superior to that man and he’s number one and he’s number two and he comes in number three. That’s sinful. That’s an unjust evaluation because human beings are not in a position to have the proper criteria to make the judgment.
Now let me hasten to add this: It is clear in the New Testament that where a man teaches false doctrine, we have the right to make a judgment. That is very clear. It is clear in the New Testament that where a man is living in sin, we have the right and the obligation to discipline that man. But where all men are equally true in doctrine and equally pure in life, there is no basis for ranking them, for evaluating them, for setting one over the other, for saying this man is superior to that man, where you have them teaching true doctrine and living godly lives, there is not to be favoritism.
Where false doctrine enters in or where sin enters in, then the church has the obligation to separate the false doctrine or be separated from that person and to discipline the one who is sinning. But in the case of Corinth there was Peter, Paul, and Apollos, and they were equally true and equally godly. And yet there had been factions that had grown up around each individual on the basis of the style of his ministry and his personality, et cetera, et cetera.
Now, in chapter 3, Paul pointed out that to make such an evaluation shows you misunderstand totally the ministry. Not only that, you misunderstand God. Not only that, you misunderstand the rewards and you misunderstand the fact that all teachers belong to you anyway and you ought to be thankful for all of them. And he went through that from verse 5 to verse 23, every one of those little things. Now, beginning in chapter 4, he says when you evaluate these men, you also misunderstand the fact that only the Lord can make that judgment. And that’s his point in chapter 4, verses 1 to 5.
God is the judge, you are not. The evaluation of a minister of God belongs to God. And we have no right to come up with arbitrary human standards and say this man ranks above this man because he does this, et cetera, et cetera. His church is bigger than that man’s. He’s got more degrees. He’s written more books. He’s a better speaker, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. As I said, if they teach false doctrine, Romans 16:17 says that’s different, you need to separate yourself from them. And 1 Timothy says if they’re living in sin, an elder can be rebuked before two or three witnesses, and he ought to be publicly rebuked if the sin is correct. Where there is sound doctrine and personal holiness, there’s no justification for evaluating and ranking men above the others.
Now, in order to deal with this problem, Paul writes one of the most interesting passages in the whole letter, these five verses, and here he gives us four major features of the minister. I want you to get these because they are very helpful, not only in understanding my place, understanding the place of any other man of God. He gives us the identity of the minister, the requirement of the minister, the attitude, and the evaluation.
Let’s look first of all at the identity of the minister, verse 1. And just knowing who the minister is, who the pastor is, is really enough to create the proper attitude toward him. “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Now, he starts out by saying consider us. Let men consider us this way. Let this be our consideration. We are ministers of Christ. Let us be thought of as ministers of Christ.
Now, unfortunately, the King James version has translated the word “minister,” and we have taken the word “minister” and made it into something very dignified and something very great and something very wonderful and something with a whole lot of honor. The word “minister” is simply the word “slave.” Now, it should better be translated that way - and if I ever write a version of the Bible it will say, “Let a man regard us as slaves of Christ.” There is not a lot of dignity in the term, people. Ministers of Christ is the first term of identification. Now, you will notice that we are ministers of Christ. We talk a lot about serving the people, but our service is really rendered to God, isn’t it? To Christ.
When I serve Christ, I will best serve His people, but when I serve His people, I may not best serve Him. In other words, sometimes when a man gets focused too much on filling the needs of the people, he may violate that which God wants. In other words, he may compromise true spiritual principles for the ends that he wants. But if I am always serving Him, then I will best serve people. For in His will I am the most benefit to His people. So many times in the ministry you can become so preoccupied with meeting the needs of people that you start doing things because people want them done, and then you begin to compromise what you know is right. And you find that the end justifies the means.
In order to win people or to help people, you start violating the thing that is most important. A simple illustration of that would be you become so preoccupied with meeting the needs of people on an individual basis that you don’t study the Word of God and then you don’t meet the needs of anybody. It’s important to remember that we are first of all ministers of Christ. In Acts 20:19, Paul says, “I look at my ministry this way: serving the Lord with all humility of mind.” Serving the Lord, this is the priority.
Now, look at the word “minister” and just forget it. It isn’t even really the word here. The word “servant” in English has many Greek words. For example, you have the term in Greek, oiketēs, which means a domestic household servant. You have the word doulos, which means a bond slave, somebody in chains. You have the word diakonos, which means just simply an employee or a servant, somebody who obeys the commands of another, but none of those words is used here. The word that is used here is the lowest level of slavery. It is the word hupēretēs and hupēretēs literally referred to the person who road on the lowest level of the galley.
They were called triremes, and they had three levels of oars, and the bottom group of guys who moved the oars that pushed that big hulk through the sea were called hupēretēs. hupēretēs, guys, were the bottom people. The word became synonymous with subordinate, with low, with the most menial person doing the most simple manual task, very common slave. So when you think of the pastor, remember that he is considered in the Scripture here, and Paul is speaking about himself as an apostle even, he is considering himself as the lowest level of slave.
Consider us galley slaves, under rowers, the lowest. You don’t exalt them. You don’t exalt one galley slave over another. They’re sort of just lost in the mass of all of the slaves. We are servants. We are the lowest of low servants. The life of a galley slave was an unbelievable existence. The pain and the agony of the strenuous work and then someone there cracking a whip against the bare backs. This was an abject kind of life. Paul says we are nothing but slaves.
In chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians, verse 5, when he was hitting the same issue, he says, “You’re arguing about who’s better, Paul or Apollos?” He says, “Who is Paul and who’s Apollos? They’re nothing but servants by whom you believe.” And the word there is diakonos, it means servant, and again the same idea, we’re servants. We are nothing. The only reason we’re even useful is because the Lord chooses to use us.
When the apostles looked at themselves, they saw themselves as low-level galley slaves, Luke 1. Luke writes, “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,” among the apostles, “even as they delivered them unto us who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” - that’s the apostles - “and hupēretēs of the Word.” Galley slaves, again, same word. Galley slaves of Christ in 1 Corinthians 4 and galley slaves of the Word. Why? Because to serve Christ is to obey His what? His Word.
You cannot serve Him without serving His Word for His Word is the revelation of His will. His commands are here. I don’t get up in the morning and say, “Lord I want to serve you now. I’m checking in. What do you want me to do? Whenever I hear somebody say, “The Lord spoke to me,” I always feel bad because in all my life the Lord never said one word. You know what I do when I want to know what He wants me to do? I go to this, right? And I read it. This is the revelation of His commands, and I am a galley slave to Him, therefore, to His Word, and Luke saw all the apostles that way.
Our Lord Jesus Christ even saw them that way. In John chapter 18, verse 36, He was having a conversation with Pilate at the time of His trial and He says this: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world then would my galley slaves fight.” And He calls His disciples hupēretēs again, subordinates, low level underlings. Paul says whenever you’re tempted to rank ministers and exalt them, remember they are slaves. They are low level slaves. Acts 26:16, when Jesus spoke on the Damascus Road to the Apostle Paul, He said, “I want you to be a hupēretēs. I want you to be a slave.” This must be the identity of the minister.
Look with me at 1 Corinthians chapter 9, and we’ll get to this later in our study, but I want to point out a couple of interesting things. First Corinthians 9, verse 16. “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of.” I’m sure in your minds many of you esteem me superior to you because I am here and you are there. And you think that because I preach the gospel, there’s something different about me. Well, that’s true, there’s something different about me if I didn’t preach the gospel, but there is something different about me because I do.
God has given me a very unique calling and I recognize that, but at the same time, if I preach the gospel, that’s nothing to glory of. That isn’t any great big thing for which I deserve a lot honor. “Oh, you’ve given your life.” “Oh, what a wonderful person you are because of what you’ve done.” Paul says this: “I have nothing to glory of. Necessity is laid on me. Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” You want to know something about me? You know why I preach the gospel? Because if I don’t, I am in a lot of trouble. Woe means judgment. The Lord called me to preach, now if I disobey Him, I put myself in a very precarious place.
“Don’t applaud me,” Paul says, “I was just going down the Damascus Road minding my own business. Next thing I knew, I was a preacher. A lot of choice I had. If I’d have picked this thing, if I’d have chosen it of my own volition, maybe I would have been worth something,” he says, verse 17, “If I was doing it willingly, then maybe I’d have a reward.” Maybe somebody could honor me if I had just chose to do, but I’ll tell you, folks, I’m a slave. I got called into this deal and the point is, I didn’t choose to do it, but if I choose not to do it I’m in a lot of trouble.
You get the perspective? Nobody gets glory for doing what they’re told to do; you just get in trouble for not doing it. So a man who preaches because God has called him isn’t worthy of any special honor, he’s just worthy of dishonor if he doesn’t. Paul says in Romans chapter 12, verse 1, he says, “Just do your reasonable service, will you?” In 2 Corinthians chapter 6, he gives a little insight into what this particular slavery is like. Here’s the characteristic of a true servant - not very glamorous, incidentally.
Well, he says, “As a servant of God,” verse 4 of 2 Corinthians 6, again the word “minister” should be translated “servant” or “slave.” “As a servant of God, here’s how my life goes. I have to be patient. I have afflictions, necessities, distresses, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watchings, fastings.” That’s a rather negative life. But on the positive side, “pureness, knowledge, long-suffering, kindness, by the Holy Spirit, love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and the left.” He says there are some good points. “God is there giving me all those things.”
So he says, “I have trouble, I have God,” and then he says in verses 8 to 10, “and boy am I ever, ever an object of confusion.” “Some people honor me, some dishonor me. Some have an evil report of me, some a good report. Some say I’m a deceiver, others true. Some don’t know me and some know me well. I’m dying and yet living, chastened and not killed, sorrowful yet rejoicing, poor yet making many rich, having nothing yet possessing all things.” The life of a servant. Paradoxical, painful.
This is my life. I’m misjudged by men, misevaluated by men, properly evaluated by others. That’s the lot of a servant. At all costs, I endure everything, all criticisms, all misjudgments, all malignity, I endure it all because I am a minister of God. And my priority is toward Him, not toward people. I am not concerned with what they think, I’m only concerned with discharging my obedient duty to Him.
I’ll tell you something. If you’re going in to any kind of Christian service, whatever it is, when you get that perspective, you’re really on the right road. When you have lost the consciousness of trying to please people and become lost in the truth of pleasing God, you’ve really got a grip on what you’re all about. Because people can “drive you woolies.” They all have different desires.
Now, what is the primary task of a servant? If I am a hupēretēs and I’m going to go through all of this, what am I supposed to do? What is the simple order that I have? Well, I told you that I read Luke 1 and it said we are hupēretēs of the Word, so it would seem to me that my obedience is to the Word of God. Well, what am I supposed to do? Look at Colossians 1:25 and here it is. Colossians 1:25, Paul says, “I am made a minister,” there’s the word “servant” or “slave” again. “I am become a slave or servant according to the plan of God, the operation of God which is given to me for you to” - do what? To “fulfill” - what? - “the Word of God,” and the literal Greek would say “to give full scope to the Word of God.”
And the idea here is to proclaim it. If I am a servant, then I simply do obey the orders. And what are the orders? Take the Word, servant, and give it out. That’s what I’m called to do. I’m not called to be creative, I’m called to be obedient. Not called to be innovative, but obedient. Not called to have great ideas and great thoughts, I’m called to be obedient. Simply that, to proclaim the Word, and we serve God best by giving men His Word. Not our opinions, not our great ideas, not our innovations, God’s Word. So the minister’s identity, what is it in 1 Corinthians 4:1? A servant of Christ. What does that mean? Lowly place, no honor, no rank, just the simple task of giving the Word.
Now, he increases our understanding of the identity of the minister by the next term that he uses in verses 1. “And,” he says, “stewards of the mysteries of God.” We’re not only ministers or servants of Christ, but stewards. Now, you, if you’ve ever been on a ship, you know what a steward is or if you’ve ever been on an airplane, you know what a steward is or a stewardess. Stewardess doesn’t own the airplane, did you know that? She doesn’t own anything on that plane. The company owns that stuff, she just passes it out, right?
She is given the responsibility of taking the goods that belong to the company dispensing them to the people. This is a steward. A steward in the Bible appears many times. For example, in Genesis 43 and 44, Joseph had a steward in Egypt, and his steward was responsible for taking care of guests, for preparing meals, for settling all of his accounts. He was like a bookkeeper for him. All of these things the steward did as well as commanding the slaves. In Isaiah chapter 22, King Hezekiah has a steward whose name is even given, Shebna. And there are other incidents in the Old Testament, many of them, that record for us the steward.
Now, the steward is the word oikonomos from two Greek words, oikos, which means house, and nomos, from nemō, which means to manage. Somebody who manages the house. A house owner would have a steward and the steward would manage his household affairs, his property, his farm, his vineyards, his accounts, his slaves, his food, taking everything into account, he would dispense, take care of things, make sure everything went well.
All Christians are God’s stewards. God has deposited in us His resources, given us spiritual gifts, given us His information, His truth, and we are to share it. We are to minister it to His house. We’re stewards. First Peter 4:10 says all Christians are stewards but particularly is the ministry a sacred stewardship, and that’s what Paul’s talking about. In Titus 1:7, it says a bishop is to be blameless as the steward of God. Any pastor, teacher, any bishop is a steward of God. God has given us His goods to dispense to the house.
What are God’s goods? What is it that we’re to dispense? The mysteries of God. Says it right there in verse 1. What are the mysteries of God? Mustērion, something hidden now revealed. What was hidden and is now revealed but the New Testament, the Word of God? This is it. The gospel of God. The revelation in the Book. We are to take God’s revelation and dispense it to the household. That’s what we’re to do. When I try to examine my ministry and say, “What am I to do?” it’s a simple thing. I simply say God has called me to take His Word and pass it out to His people. That’s all. I’m a waiter. That’s all. Just a waiter. He gives me the food, I get it out of His kitchen, and I deliver it to the table. That’s all I do.
And the thing I want to do is make sure I don’t mess it up on the way. Just get it to them the way God intended for it to be heard. In Acts 20:20, Paul says, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you but have shown you and talked to you publicly from house to house.” Now Paul says, “When I came to you, I taught the mysteries of God, and I kept back nothing that was profitable.” You say, “Well, how do you know what’s profitable?” The Bible says this, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is” - what? - “profitable.” What are you supposed to give out, then? All of it.
It’s no wonder so many people have spiritual malnutrition. They don’t get a good diet. There needs to be a balanced diet. And that is to declare the whole counsel of God, Acts 20:27. Paul said, “I have not shunned to give unto you all the counsel of God.” It’s all profitable. It all needs to be given out. That’s what I’m to do. I’m just a steward to do that. But, you know, it’s so easy to pervert the Word of God and twist it and distort it, and that is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 4:2 in a very interesting statement.
Paul looks at his own ministry in verse 1 and says, “See, we have this ministry. Now here’s our ministry.” “What is it, Paul?” Verse 2. Second Corinthians 4:2, “We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness nor handling the Word of God deceitfully.” You know, there are people who take the Word of God and twist it around to make it say what meets their own needs and their own desires and their own ends. The Word of God is to be given out as God intended it, not to be twisted to meet my own whims and opinions and desires.
There are all kinds of people who have opinions about things, and they scramble around and try to find verses to support their opinions, take things out of context. I don’t believe there should ever, ever, ever be given a sermon that is not in some sense expositional. And by that I mean you should never teach any Scripture unless you know what the words mean, what the grammar construction means, and what the context is so that you’re using it in the way God intended it to be used. You can prove anything with the Bible if you take things out of context. Anything. Push Scriptures around, slam them together when they don’t connect.
You wonder how come the cults can prove their point by pulling Scriptures everywhere? They’re all out of context. You know, it’s like the guy who preached on the fact women shouldn’t wear hair on the top of their head. And he used the text “top knot come down,” and “Top knot, come down, where is that?” Matthew 24, “Let those on the house top not come down.” You could do anything with Scripture if you’d just take the right little thing and put it in the wrong place. We are not to handle the Word of God deceitfully.
We are not to try to prove our point, to deceive people into believing this is what it means when it is not what it means. Do you see? The Bible is not a proof text for my opinions. I am to teach it in the way that God meant it. In fact, I think what Paul said to Timothy is so important. We need to be rightly dividing the Word of truth. What does rightly dividing mean? Oh, that is an important word, orthotomunta in the Greek, and what it means is cutting straight. We are to cut the Word of God straight.
What does it mean? That word was used in the Septuagint in Proverbs chapter 3, verse 6, to speak of a straight road or a straight path. Our presentation of the Scripture is to be so clear and so simple and so straight and so direct that it is easily to be understood and easy to follow. Opening the Word up, making it clear and straight so that it isn’t confusing. Now, in order to do that, to rightly divide the Word, Paul said to Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved unto God. A workman that needeth not to be ashamed” - what? - “rightly dividing.” You’ll never rightly divide unless you do what? Study.
What is the minister to do, then? He is to dispense to the house of mysteries of God. Not adulterated, not handle it deceitfully, not twist it around and make it say what he wants it to say, but to give it as God intended it to be given. That means the only legitimate way to teach is to truly know what the text means. So important.
So the minister’s a steward. No big thing. Just a servant and all stewards were servants. He’s a galley slave. He doesn’t deserve any glory, he just deserves discipline if he doesn’t do what he’s told. We are subordinates. It’s a tragic thing, you know, when the minister doesn’t do what he’s told to do. It’s so simple to do. It’s tragic. When, like Milton said, “The hungry sheep look up and are not fed.” That’s tragic. So many people exist in churches where the minister does everything but what he’s supposed to do. He couldn’t possibly dispense the Word of God in the way God intended it because he never studies it.
So the identity of the minister. People, don’t exalt us, don’t lift us up, don’t honor us, don’t rank us over each other. We’re nothing but slaves anyway. We’re all obeying orders. That’s just God’s business, not yours, not mine.
Secondly, not only the identity of the minister, but look what Paul hits secondly, the requirement of the minister. What is it? Verse 2, “Moreover” - in addition to what I just said, on top of that - “it is required in stewards” - if you’re going to have a good steward, you want “a man that is found” - what? -“faithful.” What’s the hardest kind of employee to find? Faithful one, right? One that you can turn your back on, go on vacation for three weeks, come back, and he’ll just work like he did when you were standing over his shoulder, ho, ho, ho.
So where do you find a guy like that? They’re few and far between. When you got a steward for your house, boy, you wanted somebody who was trustworthy. That’s what the word “faithful” means. Trustworthy, you could trust him. God says, “You know what I want out of you? I want to hand you this stuff and I want to make sure it gets to the table the way it came out of the kitchen. That’s all. You don’t have to spruce it up. You don’t have to be too creative and innovative. You just take what I’ve given and pass it out. That’s all.”
It doesn’t say it is required of stewards that a man be found brilliant. That lets some of us out right off the bat. Educated, clever, glib, no. Faithful, faithful. He wanted stewards that you didn’t have to watch. Stewards you absolutely implicitly trusted. God doesn’t want brilliance, personality, doesn’t want popularity, He just wants faithfulness. You know there are people who are faithful in something, it may not look to you like it’s much, but if they’re faithful before God, that’s the basis on which God honors them. Faithful. It’s always been so with God.
Look at verse 17 of 1 Corinthians 4. The commendation of Timothy, “For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy,” 1 Corinthians 4, “who is my beloved son and” - what? - “faithful in the Lord.” That’s the commendation. That’s nothing new. I could show you the Old Testament, Numbers chapter 12, verse 7. Don’t look it up. Says this: “My servant Moses, who is faithful,” isn’t that good? Moses was faithful. First Corinthians chapter 7, verse 25, Paul says, “I give my judgment,” middle of the verse, “as one that has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.”
Now look at Colossians and I’ll show you three faithful men. Colossians 1:7, “You learned of Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is for you a” - what? - “faithful servant of Christ.” Chapter 4, verse 7, here’s another one. “Tychicus, who is a beloved brother and a faithful servant.” Verse 17, “Say to Archippus take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord that you will fulfill it.” “Archippus, be faithful.
That is God’s plan for ministry. “Just be faithful. Just take what I’ve given you and pass it out. I want to trust you with this. Don’t adulterate it. Don’t pervert it. Don’t twist it. Don’t handle it deceitfully. Don’t corrupt it. Just give it out the way it came.” Matthew 24:45, “Who is a faithful and wise servant whom his Lord has made ruler over his household to give them food in due season? Blessed is the servant whom his Lord, when He comes, shall find so doing.” When the Lord returns, He just wants to find His servants being what? Faithful. Faithful, not successful, as the world can, faithful.
Matthew 25, remember the parable of the talents? “Well done good and” - what? - “faithful servant.” That’s the valuation. You were faithful, well done, well done. What are we to be faithful to, people? God says, “MacArthur see this Book? Pass it out, will you? Will you teach the people what it means? I’ll give you the Holy Spirit. I’ll give you the gift of teaching and preaching. I’ll give you a congregation, give them the food, would you? That’s all. That’s all. It’s amazing to me how people have taken that simplicity of the ministry and prostituted it into everything.
And there are some people in the ministry who are so busy doing other things, they don’t have time to do the one thing God wants them to be faithful to do. I read an interview in a magazine with a very well-known pastor all of you would know. This is the way the interview went. I’m just telling you what he said in response to the questions. He said, “It was at that point that I decided the pulpit was no longer in my ministry to be a teaching platform. The pulpit needs to be used as an instrument of spiritual therapy.”
He said, “It is a mistake to teach and preach. Don’t preach sermons. Create an experience. I don’t have time to write a systematic theology which would give a solid theological basis for what I intuitively know, what I intuitively believe is right.” What he’s saying there is, “I don’t need to study, I just know what’s right inside.” Scary. He said, “Begin with your heart, don’t begin with your head. Every sermon has to begin with the heart. If you ever hear me preaching a sermon against adultery, you know what my problem is. If you ever hear me preach a sermon where I’m so enthusiastic about the coming of Jesus Christ, you know that’s where I am heart-wise.
“It so happens I’m not hung up on either of those areas, so I’ve never preached a sermon on either one. I never begin messages by thinking I ought to go through the book of Romans. I could not, in print or in public, deny the virgin birth of Christ or the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ or the return of Christ, but when I have something I can’t comprehend I just don’t deal with it.” People, that is to totally corrupt and pervert the ministry. Is there a revelation in this book about adultery? Is there a revelation in this book about the coming of Jesus Christ?
If you didn’t pass it out, my friend, you’re a poor steward. You are a poor steward of the Word of God. It’s not up to you to preach your feelings and opinions. The last thing he said was, “I only deal with what I can feel.” So you know what people are getting when they listen to him? They’re getting him, not God. And you didn’t come here for me, I hope. If you did, you’re not getting me. If you got me, you wouldn’t be back. This kind of thing is a guilt that is expressed in 2 Corinthians 2:17. “We are not as many who corrupt the Word of God.”
That word “corrupt” is so very interesting. It is the word kapēlos, it is the word huckster. Hucksters of the Word of God. They sell a cheap gospel. They sell a cheap Bible. It’s emasculated of any difficulties. It’s a Bible without hell. It’s a Bible without sin. It’s a Bible without judgment. It’s a Bible without depravity. It’s a Bible without damnation. And believe me, it’s a Bible people buy. And when they take home the cheap diamonds, they find out they’re glass. Anybody can preach a cheap message, but he’s a huckster of the Word, not a steward. Don’t prostitute the ministry for glory, fame, wealth, popularity, whatever.
All God wants out of His ministers is that they be what? Faithful. What does faithful mean? “Means just do what I tell you to do.” “What did you tell me to do?” “Dispense the mysteries.” So simple.
Third thing, 1 Corinthians, not only the identity of the minister, the requirement of the minister, but the attitude. Boy, this is really, really helpful. And I struggle with this a lot in my own heart, and so I know that what Paul expresses here is a tremendous spiritual victory. “With me,” he says, “it is a very small thing that I should be evaluated by you or man’s day” or human day, and he means by that human standards. The word “judge” here means not krinō but the word is anakrinō, which means evaluation or cross-examination or the process of evaluating.
He says, “You know what it means to me that you evaluate me? Zero. I could care less about your evaluation. It’s a small thing to me.” Now, people, let me tell you something. When a minister of God can stand up and say, “I don’t care what people think,” boy, that’s a great spiritual victory because we all fight what people think, you know? We care. The human side of us wants to hear, “Boy, you’re terrific.” “Oh, it’s great.” “What a message.” “Man, you really gave a zinger today, John. Really spoke to my heart.”
“You know your tape did this and your tape went over there and all these people and this” and you say, “Oh boy, my tape,” see? You fight that. God help us to get to the place of maturity where you can say, “Look, I really don’t care what people think.” And here’s another step. He goes on to say, “I don’t even evaluate myself. Not only do I not care what you think, I don’t care what I think, either.” Now, that is real maturity because all of us are in the business of building up our own egos, right? “They may not know it, but I’m really good.”
“No one understands me. I’m too beyond them. They’re not on my level. They can’t comprehend these deep things that I’m speaking of.” You know, we just build these little cases to keep our ego bolstered, don’t we? Paul says, “I’ve reached to the place where you know something? I don’t let you judge me because your standards are too low, and I don’t let me judge me because mine are as low as yours.”
I’m just as depraved as you are. We’re a bunch of sinners saved by grace, and we’re lousy at real evaluation. Boy, that’s a tremendous, tremendous indication of his own maturity because it’s so easy to let everybody else evaluate you. You know, you’re finished with a message or teaching and somebody comes and says, “Oh, that was terrific. Boy, what a blessing. I was thrilled by that.” And, you know, you’re listening to that and you’re saying, “I am good, I am. He’s right. I know it.”
Or your dear wife will say to you, “Honey, that was great” and give you extra portion of potatoes or something. You know, I mean, it’s just - and then there are those times when you hear that long enough and you pretty soon say, “Well, I am.” You’re tempted to think, “They’re probably right. I rank right up there with the biggies.” Paul says, “Nope. My own evaluation is as corrupt as yours is.”
You know something? I’ve tried to say to you in years past and I say it again to you, don’t ever, ever evaluate your own spiritual life. You’re in no position to do it. You’re too biased in your own favor. That’s why the focus of the Christian life isn’t on the Christian life, it’s on God. You just keep plugged into God and let the evaluation take care of itself. When the Bible says, “If you’re going to be a changed person,” 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “don’t gaze at yourself,” it says, “gaze on the glory of the Lord, and you’ll be changed into His image by the Holy Spirit.” Get your focus where it ought to be. That’s why so much spiritual introspection doesn’t do you any good because you can’t make a proper evaluation anyway.
It’s kind of like dealing with demons. You can’t deal with them, either, because they lie all the time. So the best thing to do is focus on God, get outside of yourself. Paul says, “I don’t care about your rankings. I’m not writing this part to you because I’m upset that I’m third and not second on the list. I’m not asking for equal billing. Your judgment means nothing, neither does mine.” Verse 4: “Even though I don’t know anything myself against me.”
In other words, “Even though I look at my life and I say, ‘Paul everything’s like it ought to be, there’s no glaring sin. There’s no inconsistency. There’s no unrighteous thing in your life.’ I know nothing is wrong. I’m dealing with all those things before God. Still I am not by that evaluated.” The end of verse 4, “But He that evaluates me” - is what? - “is the Lord.” What is the attitude of the minister of God? It isn’t human opinion that governs what I do, it isn’t my opinion that governs what I do, the only one who can really determine is God. So who do I serve? Study to show yourself approved unto yourself? Unto your people? Unto whom? Unto God. He alone is the One making evaluations.
Let me give it to you again, people. I’m not in this church to serve you, I’m in this church with all my heart serving God because He’s the one that makes the evaluation, and if I serve Him with all my heart, you know what? You will be best served. But, honestly, doesn’t matter what you think. I am so appreciative when you’re kind and you say things and you appreciate the message, and I love that and that lets me know you’re responding, let’s me know you’re growing, and I have to take it for what it means. It means your heart was enriched. You learned something. You were blessed. God spoke to you, and I understand that, and I appreciate the love and I appreciate the response. But I can’t evaluate my ministry that way because I can’t evaluate it. Only God can. That’s His business.
That brings us to the last point. The evaluation of the minister. Verse 5. How do you evaluate a minister? Oh, listen, I could tell you how they do today. Just pick up the Christian magazines and read. How big is your church? How big is your Sunday school? How many baptisms? There’s one magazine that came out in America that had the pictures of the pastors who had the most baptisms. And on the front page were the biggies with a big picture. Anybody over 300, big picture. Under 300, littler picture. And then there were the 100 guys with just a little picture. Nice guys but, you know, not in the class with the biggies. You know that kind of paper, this makes good material for lining your birdcage.
Listen, God does not evaluate a man on how many people he baptized. God doesn’t evaluate on how big his church was or how many letters he has at the end of his name or how many conversions or how many books or how great a preacher or how much he knew. Listen, when it comes down to the day when we face Jesus Christ, He’s going to evaluate us on one key thing. You want to hear what it is? Look at verse 5, “Don’t judge anything before the time, until the Lord comes.” Don’t you make evaluations, that’s His business. You’re out of line. You’re usurping the seat of the judge, and you don’t belong in that place.
You quit judging before the time, until the Lord comes. He’s the One who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the - watch this word - motives of the heart. That’s that word. What is God going to judge us on? Not nearly so much what we did as our motives. One word is the evaluator, people. Why did he minister? Why did John MacArthur minister? Did he minister for fame? Did he minister for filthy lucre like so many? Did he minister for the satisfaction that it gave his own ego? Did he minister for popularity? Did he minister for prestige? Or did he minister because he wanted to give me glory? That’s all that matters. Not how big was his church. Not how many degrees did he have. Not how many books did he write. Why? Why did he do what he did?
Stop passing judgment. Someday there’s going to be a judgment. Revelation 22:12, “The Lord’s going to come quickly and His rewards are going to be with Him.” First Corinthians chapter 3 we studied some months ago talked about the fact that there’s going to be a judgment day, and the Lord’s going to check out the works whether they’re wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver, precious stones. Second Corinthians 5:9 and 10, we’re going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and we’re going to receive rewards for what has been done in our body whether it’s valuable or worthless.
God’s going to take care of that and the hidden things of darkness, and I take that not to refer to evil, but simply things that we can’t see, hidden things, things that are dark to us. The reason I don’t think it’s evil is because it says at the end of verse 5 every man will have praise. So the things that we can’t see, that humans can’t know, are going to be opened up by God who can know them and He will manifest motives. And on that basis, men will be praised. Every servant of God’s going to be praised because in Christ there’s no condemnation, right?
But as to who gains the greatest praise, who gains the greatest reward, only God can make that judgment because He alone knows the motives. What you need to do in your heart when you serve the Lord is search the reason. Why? I’ll tell you, people, that’s a struggle in my heart. That’s a struggle that Satan throws at you all the time. Why am I ministering? Am I ministering so I’ll be famous? So I’ll be popular? So I’ll be loved by everybody? Or am I ministering so that God is glorified. There’s only one motive.
There’s only one motive, 1 Corinthians 10, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it” - what? - “all to the glory of God.” Doesn’t matter what it is, something as simple as eating and drinking, preaching - anything. One motive. God’s going to evaluate it, and the key is motives. Paul says there’s no place for evaluating human teachers. No place for exalting one above the other. Why? Because they are all slaves. Because you’re not in a position to do it because you don’t know the truth about them. Your standards are all wrong. God says, “All I want is that they’re faithful and all I want is that their motives pure,” and only God knows that.
It’s going to be kind of exciting to get to that throne and see some people that nobody knew receiving some rewards that nobody dreamed they’d ever experience. Don’t rank men of God. Realize at the end of chapter 3 that they’re all yours. And you’re Christ’s and Christ is God’s. And remember that we’re slaves. All God asks us to do is be faithful. We can’t regard your opinion or our own but only His, and He’ll evaluate us on the basis not so much of what we did but of what we thought. Why we did it.
My prayer is this. Someday at the end of my life, I appreciate when you say that was good, when my own conscience says that was good, but someday at the end of my life, the greatest thing could ever happen would be if the Lord looked me in the eye and said to me, “John, well done, good faithful servant.” Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t you like to hear that? Then be obedient, be faithful, have pure motives in your ministry as I must in mine.
Father, we do thank you this morning for your Word to us. Clarify it in our hearts, specifically as it applies to each individual. Make us the kind of servants you want us to be. Help us to remember that if we do anything, it isn’t worthy of glory, it’s only what we should have done because necessity is laid on us. Father, if there are some in our midst this morning who have served you from impure motives, heal that. If there are some who haven’t served you at all, they’ve been unfaithful. May they be faithful from this day to use their gifts, their ministries, their abilities, and your Word to pass on to others. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
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